Are you an optimist?
In our part of the world, asking that is a bit like asking whether you’re a TOTAL fathead and at least have a single redeeming scrap of nous to know it. If you really are a total fathead, of course, you might answer: “I’m not an optimist. In fact, I haven’t had my eyes tested in years.”
We don’t feel very comfortable with a sunny outlook, round these parts.
Personally, however, I seem to have seen rather a lot of sunshine over the last few weeks. And I’ve got to say, it may be a bit blinding, but it feels very nice. ..Be a luv and pass the factor fif’, eh.
For Momo, worklife and homelife are so interchangeably confused, I don’t ever really get to either come home or go to work. I live in some mental nether world in between, I suppose. On a perpetual psychological commute that never arrives, presumably. ..Which is a view of living as dystopian as a circle of Dante’s pergatory. And who knows, it may be – but if I’m learning anything from this slow purge, it appears to only be that you can now get a half decent G&T in a can.
It’s like the last days of the Roman bleedin’ Empire, isn’t it.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve certainly been wearing shorts a lot. Reasonably tasteful, gentleman’s knee-revealers, you understand, not sports attire or anything truly end-of-civilisation like that. I’ve been in a sizzling hot land working, and another one resting. I’ve handed out ice cream to various batches of visiting kiddywinks in our garden, and I’ve gnawed on a Fab while pacing the same corner of England’s green in headphones linked by very long jack lead to the studio, fathoming mixes. And I can say that, whatever you’re doing, when you live in a verdantly well-watered country everything feels better with sunshine. And everything can sort of blur in the haze.
Today, Fusilier Lee Rigby has been privately laid to rest. As privately as thousands appearing to pay their respects can be. I was in Kuwait when I read the news that a young army drummer had been murdered just outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, by two men with an apparently Islamist motive for the random attack. It was an incomprehensibly brutal attack, in the middle of the road, with the sun high in the sky, as people walked by. On a twenty-five year-old, who had served his country abroad. On a young man who, his mother said, “just wanted to make people smile.”
I was standing in an office corridor so indistinct, it could have been any office corridor in the world when I found myself talking about the news with three other people that afternoon. One of us was Lebanese, one of us was Kuwaiti, one of us was English, one of us was Indian. We had been laughing loudly about something or other, just before I’d seen my phone. None of us knew what to say beyond the shared response of “what the freak was that?” A couple of hours’ drive from a recent car-bomb in southern Iraq, stood there in an indistinct office corridor somewhere in a business tower block at the north end of the Persian Gulf, a display of religiously-couched horror back in my home country just seemed ridiculous. Beyond any sense of reality any of us knew.
A little family of our best friends live in Woolwich. It’s a melt of different communities, like much of London, like much of most big cities. This same Anglo-French family were on our hot beach in Bournemouth the weekend I returned from the Gulf. They had no more sense to make of it than we did. It could have been Southbourne as much as south of the river, so psychologically deranged is such a thing.
Is a world where that is possible any place for optimism, I wonder?
I don’t know what BBC2’s Horizon would say about optimism. I suspect any scientific look at outlook would say it’s nothing as simple as happy and sad. They’ll say it’s a lot to do with chemicals in the brain, I’m sure – the mix you’re given, and the mix you make it into. They might even say that the words Optimist and Pessimist are clumsy and pointless. Don’t know.
I think they’re statements of identity, those words. Banners to march under for some. A way to differentiate themselves. Which underscores the real truth of these antipodean stances, definitively on opposite sides of the world from each other: they’re a choice.
I know it’s a lot easier to make music sound cool in a minor key than a major one. I know it sounds true to say wherever good blooms, evil lurks. I know that anyone who’s seen war never fully returns to cosy high-street life. I know, because I see it every day on a thousand news-pooling devices, that the human capacity for indifference to others’ suffering is an apparently fathomless ocean trench. A place where the air pockets of hope get crushed under pressure.
Who can really know such things?
But, the truth is, of course, air pockets don’t get crushed. They get forced to the surface to join a whole surrounding planet-sized atmosphere of air.
Is this a reliable metaphor to help us breathe?
The real question is: Is there hope? Can we get away with suggesting there is always hope somewhere?
You tell me. But I think so. I think it can get crushed out of individuals – we are frail, and operate at our strongest within a relatively narrow altitude of well-being. But as a species, we do seem drawn to go back to the Goldilocks zone at least as much as we do to the war zone.
I know what I saw on Momo’s little project with business friends in the Middle East – I saw a whole group of humans that were quietly inspiring. People I understood as fellow humans, despite all kinds of cultural details and experiences of theirs that didn’t match mine. They face challenges I don’t, I face challenges they don’t – but there are things to learn about ourselves we can only learn from such differences. And I know what I saw in Greece, recouperative days later with the lovely first lady of Momo – I met people in an economically pounded country working very hard to make us feel welcome and themselves feel proud.
Often, wherever there is a blood-stained murderer, there is a a middle-aged woman trying to distract him from hurting anywhere else. And a police team prepared to move in and contain him. And ambulance staff ready to fight for life. Of course, if this happens on the street of some kind of stable democratic society, these people are much more likely to be on hand.
But how do we get one of those? Watching all manner of dramas set in sword-splattering versions of the middle ages lately, we might well wonder. Well, duh – the answer is, we build one. Make one. Dream it up and then have a go at constructing it, in our more clear-sighted moments – in the hope that one can be built at all and the belief that by making a start in every little detail every day, it is being built. The more we do that, the greater the chance of someone being accidentally born into that and not a place of economic, emotional and political hopelessness.
For context is so often everything, isn’t it? When to wear shorts, when not to. When to dress as the centrepiece of the Pride grand parade and when to dress more like you WANT this bereavement counseling job we’re interviewing you for.Where we grow up, is where we first see values practiced.
Violence feeds on hatred, hatred feeds on fear, fear feeds on poverty, poverty feeds on ignorance. And injustice is the product. If you want a flow chart for your fridge.
The main thing I remember of what I’ve shared with all the people I’ve met over opportunities for work during the last few weeks is… er, laughter. Whatever the climate, when there is a fighting chance to make life better, people start to recognise something encouraging in each other, I think.
I don’t think it’s pessimism that’s far-sighted. A grey day usually has very poor visibility. In fact, the worse the weather, the smaller the circle of focus. Sunlight is polarising – it contrasts up the light and colour. It shows you things. It shows you the value of things. Even if it slows you down to saunting-about-for-a-drink speed.
My own work does tend to come out a bit annoyingly sunny. In musical work especially. And as I work on new material, I sometimes catch myself uselessly wondering how it can have a place in a world as brutal as this. ..Like I think what the world really needs is more drab, dreary indie angst.
Optimism seems naiive, at first glance. All that damned-fool grinning, for one thing. But I’m not sure I’m optimistic about Momo ever finding a grand audience for its work and it’s damned-fool grinning. But I still feel very confident in its ability to give me a very sunny outlook. And if that gets me out of bed successfully, attempting to do SOMEthing that nods towards the possibilities of a brighter tomorrow, then call me a fathead but I’m not sure I should stop.